Saturday, April 17, 2010

In loving memory: Ruby Genevieve (Lentz) Wilmore, 1911-2010

My last surviving grandparent, she was born in Kansas three years before the outbreak of World War I, and six months before the Titanic set sail on its fateful voyage. At about 4:30 p.m. this past Thursday, as I was noting the 98th anniversary of the great vessel's sinking, I learned that her long and remarkable journey had ended a few hours earlier, apparently at an extended-care facility in Indianapolis, although I do not know that detail for certain. Death will issue its summons to all of us, sooner or later; and in Grandma Wilmore's case, it was neither unexpected nor altogether unwelcome, in view of her slow but unrelenting decline after falling and breaking a leg at her home shortly after her 92nd birthday.

While I do not mourn the departure of this warm-hearted, thoughtful, and generous woman whose earthly journey barely fell short of lasting a full century, I know that I will always miss her. Several years ago, during one of my telephone conversations with Grandma, she remarked how unsettled and crisis-ridden my own life had been. That is indisputably true, but it is just as true that for me, she was both an island of stability and a constant source of comfort, reassurance, and acceptance. I don't recall her ever speaking a cross or unkind word to me -- or to anyone else, really, now that I think about it. I was never afraid to be myself around her, or to share with her my life's frequent disappointments, as well as its occasional triumphs. She and Grandpa comprised what was probably the best and most consistent cheering section I have ever had, and they were always exceptionally generous with their means as well. Grandma, in particular, endowed as she was with a hefty portion of female intuition, always seemed to sense exactly what I needed, and when I needed it. I remember the time when, as a struggling college student, I was literally down to my last dollar -- no cash on me and a balance of exactly 92 cents in my checking account -- and I wondered where my next meal was going to come from, to say nothing of how I was going to make it to my first payday for the part-time job I had just started a few days earlier. I went home that afternoon, checked my mail, and found a St. Patrick's Day card from Grandma, with a $20.00 bill enclosed in it. That was enough to tide me over until payday, and I always thought it was significant that although this was just one of the many times she or Grandpa sent me money over the years, it was the only time either of them ever sent me a card for St. Patrick's Day. Somehow, she just knew, and how she did continues to be one of the more pleasant mysteries of my life.

Grandpa passed away at age 89, likewise after several years of steady decline, and, as it turned out, fourteen years almost to the day before Grandma would join him. Although she was in generally good health at the time, I did not expect that she would long survive Grandpa, partly because the task of caring for him during his last few years was so arduous for her, and partly because the actuarial tables suggest that those who are widowed after long marriages usually pass on within a year or two after losing their spouses. (My grandparents were married for 66 years.) The last time I saw Grandma was at the end of August, 1997, when I left Ohio for good and stopped to see her on my way back to Utah to join my family. The home she and Grandpa had purchased in 1958 was the scene of so many fond and happy memories for me, and it saddened me to know that this would likely be my last visit to that cheerful little house -- which, incidentally, is visible from the gravesite where Grandma will be interred beside her late husband this coming Friday. But as Grandma kept on going year after year, I wondered if perhaps I was wrong after all, and if I might indeed make it out to Indiana for one more visit before she either reached the end of her life or was no longer able to continue living independently.

Unfortunately, I was unable to make another visit, and the fall which precipitated her long decline forced her into an extended care facility in November, 2003. I continued to keep in touch with her as best I could, but even that became increasingly difficult as she was no longer able to read and began repeating herself constantly during our occasional telephone conversations, which themselves became less and less frequent. Perhaps all of that helped me to prepare for her departure, since for years I had been missing the way things had been before. But even so, her passing comes during what has already been an unusually mournful season in my life, as I still grieve over the passing of Nell Thomas less than three weeks ago, as well as one or two events of lesser significance that have taken place since then. I hope I won't have to write any more tributes like this one for awhile.

Shortly before sitting down to compose this blog entry, I shared a story on Facebook which, in addition to being one of my favorite memories of Grandma, is also among the simplest. I noted that I was smiling as I reflected on it, so perhaps it is fitting that I should close here with the same tale. In April, 1978, having just completed another semester as an undergraduate at BYU, I flew out to Indiana to visit my grandparents, whom I had not seen in about seven years or so. The nine-day visit proved to be a delight for me, and I hope for them as well. When I arrived at the house, I was greeted by a large plate of chocolate chip cookies which Grandma had made for me. At the time, I weighed about 65 pounds less than I do now, and my metabolism was such that I could still consume more or less unlimited quantities of such goodies, and do so with almost complete impunity. (Ah, those were the days!) As I recall, the cookies did not last long -- perhaps only a few hours -- but the message and sentiment behind them have endured ever since. With this gesture, Grandma let me know once again, as she would continue to do in so many ways over the years -- and usually by her actions rather than by mere words -- that I was loved, appreciated, and accepted just as I was. Throughout my life, there has probably been no message I have needed to hear as often or as consistently as that one, and I think she knew that. Having her and Grandpa in my life was one of the best things that ever happened to me, and today I am grateful to have had both of them for as long as I did.

Financial constraints, unfortunately, will make it impossible for me to attend the funeral, but I will certainly be present that day in spirit. It will be a simple family gathering, much like the one we had for Grandpa when he passed away in April of 1996, and which, perhaps because of its very simplicity, was one of the best funerals I have ever attended. Grandma's entire life centered around home, hearth, and family, and she was little known outside her immediate circle. Her farewell, as planned, will therefore be as she would want it, and as she most assuredly deserves.


Blogger Donna Thornhill said...

This is a very beautiful and heartfelt tribute to both your Grandmother and Grandfather. They would be very proud, Garry.
I understand and pray you don't loose any more loved ones any time soon.



6:58 PM  
Blogger Garry Wilmore said...

Thanks, Donna. And I agree with you in the hope that I won't have to go through this again anytime soon. Grandma was 98 years old, and her passing came as no surprise, but it is still kind of hard for me -- especially coming, as it did, so soon after Mrs. Thomas left us. You're a loyal and much-appreciated friend, and your support during this time has meant a lot to me.

7:13 PM  

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